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Elizabeth Greene quoted in Healthcare Risk Management, One Year After Landmark Case, Criminal Convictions Remain a Risk for Providers


Prosecution of healthcare workers for criminal charges associated with clinical care errors instills fear in clinicians, says Elizabeth L.B. Greene, JD, partner with Mirick O’Connell in Worcester, MA. Reports of these charges and convictions deepens clinicians’ fears and erodes patients’ confidence in healthcare systems and providers.

“When clinical care is compromised by systemic problems, including understaffing, overworking, overly burdensome medication and medical record systems — which are often compounded by clinician burnout or depression, as is prevalent in medicine today — the risks of harm to clinicians and their patients is significant,” Greene says. “Such pressures appear to be most significant in complex, high-volume care settings, such as busy emergency departments, ICUs, and nursing homes.”

The volume and complexity of care, including the myriad medications, IVs, and fall risks, are common to these settings, where there often are too few providers who are overworked and burned out, Greene says. In these settings, the risk of multiple mistakes rises — and multiple mistakes often increase the risk and acuity of patient harm.

“Prosecutors seem to find grounds for criminal charges against providers who have made multiple mistakes in clinical care, allegedly resulting in significant patient harm. The risk of criminal charges will be reduced by addressing the systemic issues,” Greene says. “One way to address the risks created by these systemic issues is for healthcare system leaders to commit to the goal of transforming healthcare by prioritizing the well-being of healthcare workers. When healthcare systems address the well-being of their clinical workforce, and ferret out the common systemic problems, there will be a reduction in patient harm events, and in criminal prosecutions of clinicians for care-related issues.”

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